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UK erred in focussing too much on threat of a flu pandemic: Cameron

LONDON (AP) – Britain made a mistake in focussing too much on preparations for a flu pandemic rather than considering other types of pandemic in the years before the COVID-19 outbreak, former Prime Minister David Cameron told a public inquiry yesterday.

Cameron, who led Britain’s Conservative government from 2010 to 2016, was the first politician to be questioned by the wide-ranging inquiry into the United Kingdom’s (UK) preparedness for the coronavirus pandemic, how the government responded and what lessons can be learned for the future.

The UK had one of the highest COVID-19 death tolls in Europe, with the virus recorded as a cause of death for almost 227,000 people. Giving evidence under oath, Cameron said that during his time in office, officials were too narrowly focussed on the dangers of an influenza pandemic.

Not enough questions were asked about the possibility of an outbreak of other highly infectious respiratory diseases, he said.

“So much time was spent on a pandemic influenza and that was seen as the greatest danger,” Cameron said.

He said his government did look at other pandemics, including MERS and SARS.

But he added: “I think the failing was not to ask more questions about asymptomatic transmission, highly infectious… what turned out to be the pandemic we had.” He said many countries were “in the same boat of not knowing what was coming,” but he argued that the UK did better than many to “scan the horizon, to try and plan” for a pandemic.

Cameron also rejected accusations that austerity measures under his leadership that cut government spending on public services left the UK’s National Health Service much more vulnerable to the pandemic.

The official inquiry, led by a retired judge, is set to take three years to complete.

Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who led the UK during the pandemic, agreed in late 2021 to hold the probe after heavy pressure from bereaved families.

Britain’s former prime minister David Cameron at Dorland House in London. PHOTO: AP